Ethnobiology Educational Network: A societal perspective

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Title of Abstract: Ethnobiology Educational Network: A societal perspective

Name of Author: Sunshine Brosi
Author Company or Institution: Frostburg State University
Author Title: Assistant Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Ecology and Environmental Biology, Evolutionary Biology, General Biology, Plant Biology & Botany
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development
Approaches: Material Development
Keywords: societies, cultures, ethnobiology, network, resources

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Patricia Harrison, Botanical Research Institute of Texas Will McClatchey, Botanical Research Institute of Texas

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Ethnobiology is a developing science of the dynamic interactions between humans, biota, and environments. Ethnobiology expands upon ethnobotany to include interactions with the entire natural world including the subfields of ethnoecology and ethnozoology. Ethnobiology expands from a historic focus on traditional cultures to include modern cultural interactions such as research on how cultures learn about the natural world. The strengths of the ethnobiological perspective include being rooted in culture and being interdisciplinary by linking social and natural sciences. The Open Science Network (OSN: was established in order to develop and promote ethnobiology education and in turn enhance STEM education through the lens of ethnobiology. OSN has been supported since 2009 by a NSF RCN-UBE grant to create an open forum for the exchange of innovative curricula and ideas, as well as a community that supports professional growth. Although primarily based within the Society for Economic Botany (SEB), OSN also includes educators from the International Society of Ethnobiology, the Society of Ethnobiology, and the International Society for Ethnopharmacology. The goal of OSN was to empower instructors to implement Vision and Change (V&C) in Undergraduate Biology Education recommendations for improving scientific literacy. Ethnobiology education particularly aligns within the V&C core competencies of: (4) Tap into the interdisciplinary nature of science; (5) Ability to communicate and collaborate with other disciplines; and (6) Relationships between science and society. Ethnobiologists study knowledge transfer within societies with many opportunities to expand into pedagogical research. Ethnobiologists are extensively trained in ethics, human subject research, and qualitative analysis which broaden opportunities for faculty to engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The Open Science Network in Ethnobiology was formed to enable sharing of peer-reviewed education materials and practices though an open source, open access web portal. After several years of building a network of educators and empowering them to contribute educational materials to the site, the greatest challenge to the project was peer review of the curriculum. With no defined standards for ethnobiology literacy, it was difficult to evaluate shared materials. The project looked to a landmark project in the field of biology education to pattern its own standards that would not only define core concepts and competencies for this emerging field, but also provide consistency in courses and degree programs across universities and community colleges. Adapting the Vision and Change for Undergraduate Biology initiative to the field of ethnobiology became the focus of the grant work, with the goals of (1) consensus on core concepts specific for the field, in addition to the Vision and Change biology concepts, (2) consistent learning outcomes for ethnobiology courses, (3) course alignment in ethnobiology degree programs, and (4) professional development for educators that models innovative teaching and assessment practices. In 2011 and 2012 biology and anthropology educators from 33 universities and institutions across the U.S. and Europe came together to work towards consensus on essential elements of ethnobiology curricula. From those meetings came recommendations for standards specific to ethnobiology, and a draft of a document, Vision and Change in Undergraduate Ethnobiology Education in the U.S.A.: Recommended Curriculum Assessment Guidelines, was compiled and presented to all three ethnobiology professional societies in 2012, along with an invitation for members to comment and make further recommendations. In addition, workshops and presentations at the three meetings modeled teaching practices and assessment strategies recommended by Vision and Change.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Evaluation of the network to determine growth and to measure successful outcomes of objectives was done through surveys at the professional meetings and through an on-line survey to all members. An evaluator traveled across the U.S. visiting universities with ethnobiology courses for personal interviews with ethnobiology educators to survey their work and to identify strong hub points in the network.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: OSN has changed the culture of ethnobiology education through developing dynamic mentorships between seasoned educators and young professionals. A key success of OSN has been the formation of cohesive groups of interacting ethnobiologists. Through regular OSN meetings, core team members have developed lasting relationships which have resulted in collaboration on education and research projects. Educators within the field of ethnobiology are part of an active, engaging community and feel less isolated within instructional and departmental boundaries. Members have submitted curriculum modules aligned to the recommended ethnobiology standards for posting on the OSN web site as examples. Additionally, programs such as the Field School by the University of Hawaii adapted its curriculum to align with the Vision and Change recommendations and experienced a greater student engagement in the program. OSN has resulted in curricular modification, extensive assessment, and benchmarks for evaluation integrated into the Ethnobotany Program at Frostburg State University in Maryland. As programs in ethnobiology develop, OSN is positioned to provide essential structure and support.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The greatest challenge within OSN has been the process of peer-review of educational materials. The transition to peer-reviewing from research to teaching materials was extremely challenging. Ethnobiologists value the great diversity of cultures and were resistant to potential hominization. Hesitation to share or peer-review was exacerbated by lack of familiarity with educational literature. Another obstacle to participation came in the form of perception of ownership and uniqueness, as many modules developed and refined in evolving teams. Publication of materials could be enhanced through discussions of authorship at the onset of collaborations and opportunities during workshops to develop publications. The peer-review process was improved by the development of defined standards for ethnobiology literacy. Ethnobiology struggles with an identity of a less-rigorous science, similar to the field of ecology in its early development. V&C offers structured guidelines to counter this perception by developing educational materials that cover all core competencies to better train students. Ethnobiology is developing at a time of educational reform with unique opportunities to create proactive learning materials to circumvent disciplinary snags. Development of educational modules that address these competencies will need to occur in conjunction with professional development opportunities.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: Vision and Change in Undergraduate Ethnobiology Education in the U.S.A.: Recommended Curriculum Assessment Guidelines will be presented to various ethnobiology organizations in the fall. Discipline specific criteria for material development and evaluation will be used in peer-review. OSN elected to have materials submitted through an already established portal LifeDiscoveryEd Digital Library. The LifeDiscoveryEd Digital Library is an online resource with various portals for biology education in ecology (EcoEd), plant biology (PlantEd), evolution (EvoEd), and ethnobiology (EconBotEd). The project is a partnership of the Ecological Society of America, the Society for Economic Botany, the Botanical Society of America and the Society for the Study of Evolution. Ethnobiology provides fertile soil for growth in students’ interest in the biological sciences. The nature of ethnobiology is attracting an unprecedented number of university students exploring careers in this emerging interdisciplinary field. The Vision and Change process has made significant contributions to the development of this field and will continue to guide its growth as a more rigorous, credited science discipline.

Acknowledgements: This project is supported by a National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network in Undergraduate Biology Education (RCN-UBE).